October 17, 2014
Diet and Expectations: Part 2 – Results now Vs. Delayed gratification

Last week we discussed how education about health can protect you from the magical marketing of weight loss supplements and gimmicks. The expectation that a magic pill will solve your health problems is folly. The expectation that lasting health requires a lifestyle change is good sense.

Why is it so hard to make a lifestyle change? One reason is that temptations arise and offer immediate satisfaction, and these temptations are not conducive to health. That brownie would taste really good if you ate it right now. Why would you think of leaving a lonely brownie on the table? Relaxing and watching TV is more rewarding now than getting up and exercising. I mean, you worked hard today and you deserve some relaxation. Sleeping in and hitting the snooze button 3 times is way cozier than getting on your running shoes and heading out into the morning air.

At any given moment your brain is looking for threats and rewards. When a threat arises, you act (stress response), and when a reward is near, you act (motivation). Your brain looks for immediate survival needs very effectively and at the expense of long term survival needs. This makes sense, because if it were the other way around, you may not live very long as you would not be phased by immediately dangerous situations. According to your brain, if you don’t take advantage of a reward now, you may never get the chance to do so again. Given that lifestyle is a long-term endeavor, how do you achieve it while working with a brain that looks for immediate rewards?

You use your brain.

While you have a survival system in the brain (which the reward center is included) you also have a part of your brain dedicated to thinking, rationality, and predicting the future based on past experience. This is the part of the brain you can use, and you use it by thinking. To avoid instant gratification and make a lasting change you need an understanding of yourself, a “why,” and a plan. You must have an understanding of yourself and of the consequences of taking / not taking action. This is why 20/20 LifeStyles utilizes lifestyle coaching with a counselor, so you can understand your behavior and choices. You must also have a “why.” Without a strong enough Why the how can be daunting. Why should you avoid the brownie? If your goal is to remain healthy and not trigger future food cravings, avoiding sweets may be a good decision. Why should you get up in the morning and exercise? So it is done and over with and you won’t have to battle with yourself at night about getting your exercise in after a long day at work. Lastly, you must have a plan. Knowledge is only powerful when matched with action.

If you are making a change, the physical appearance and health effects of a healthy lifestyle is weeks and months away. You can also get benefits now, if you know what to look for. Eating well and exercising can immediately help your stress, sleep, and mental faculties. It can quickly ease depression and anxiety, as well as increase your energy through the day. Don’t forget about these benefits. If these were the only benefits to exercise and healthy eating, it would still be worth doing.

In conclusion, if you are thinking of making a lifestyle change and being rid of the temporary cleanses and diets, you will be working with a brain that is very good at spotting immediate rewards and stressors. You can fight this by using your thinking brain to understand your behavior, discover the “why,” and create a plan.

Written by Clark Masterson

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